Notes: Here's a disturbing trend for the 2002 Nissan Altima: the engine starts burning oil like crazy, the catalytic converter goes bad, the head gasket blows and eventually the entire engine needs replacement. Sound familiar? Like a script from a horror film, these Altimas seem doomed to fail around 95k miles.


really awful
Crashes / Fires:
2 / 1
Injuries / Deaths:
1 / 0
Average Mileage:
94,362 miles

About These NHTSA Complaints:

This data is from the NHTSA — the US gov't agency tasked with vehicle safety. Complaints are spread across multiple & redundant categories, & are not organized by problem.

So how do you find out what problems are occurring? For this NHTSA complaint data, the only way is to read through the comments below. Any duplicates or errors? It's not us.

2003 Nissan Altima exhaust system problems

exhaust system problem

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2003 Nissan Altima Owner Comments (Page 1 of 2)

problem #40

Aug 202009

Altima 4-cyl

  • 140,000 miles


Hi! I have a problem with my Nissan Altima 2.3 2003. I need to change the motor because of the catalyst have enter some residue into the motor, so it take so oil like hell... I did not receive any recall and the Nissan garage did never ask or tell me about that. They told me about the front light recall but never the catalyst. The yellow light in the dash light up to check engine but the damage was done. Because a phone them to ask if it's ok to run the that light on, they say yes but come on the next appointment or if you can come to get to alarm code. So when I did it was catalyst alarm that a inside damage. I was about 140000 km on the car so told me that a need to change the complete motor.... I was in shock. I had a Honda Accord 1989 at 380000 and never lift the motor. And on a Nissan 150000 km our car is out of order"???? is that something that a could do with the Nissan garage to make them change the motor on warranty" and more the remove the inside of the catalyst in there facilities ( repair garage). I think that they not alloy to do that" so can I have some help for that " thank you!

- Quebec, 00, USA

problem #39

Jan 042011

Altima 4-cyl

  • 97,000 miles
Campaign id 03V455000 engine and engine coolant campaign id 03V084000 engine and engine coolant exhaust system campaign id 06V242000 engine and engine coolant I have attempt to contact Nissan North America on several different occasions regarding the above mentioned recalls. After car failure, and money spent on trying to correct these issues, Nissan has not been responsive to my numerous request. I am currently experiencing the above mentioned problems with my vehicle. However, these recalls came to my attention after I learned from a Nissan technician, and after having my vehicle repaired. Problems relevant to the recalls, I am still experiencing.

- New Orleans, LA, USA

problem #38

May 312011

Altima 4-cyl

  • 60,000 miles
I have a 2003 Nissan Altima 2.5 with approx. 155K miles on it. I bought it used with approx. 20K miles in 2006. At around 60K I noticed that the vehicle was using a little more oil than normal. I had it serviced and was told that the engine was getting older and it was normal wear and tear. I continued to do the regular maintenance and at about 130K miles it started to use even more oil. Took it in again and was told that the engine is getting older and this was normal again. Fast forward to this year. At about 145K miles the check engine light comes on. I take it in and I am told it is a P0420, which means that the catalyst system is below threshold, but not told that this is common in 02 - 03 Nissan Altima. I started hearing rattling noises in the engine and oil consumption went through the roof. I just had my oil changed last week and had to put 3 quarts in it this morning after only 400 miles. Engine compression is also gone. So I start doing some research and find that I am not the only one experiencing these problems and that Nissan is well aware that the catalytic converter disintegrates in this model year car, destroying the engine and leading to excessive oil consumption but refuses to issue a recall. They are also aware that it happens overtime and I believe use this to their advantage in avoiding warranty repairs. It seems that they hide behind the warranty period and refuse to take action since this problem isn't discovered until it is too late and beyond the warranty period. It develops in most cars slowly over time. I am also very disappointed that every mechanic I went to told me it was normal. Then I get online and do a google search leading me to hundreds of message boards with people having the same problem and being blown off by Nissan. I take very good care of my cars. I am now going to have to purchase a new car because I am refusing to pay $4,000 to replace an engine for a know defect. Apparently this defect has also caused fires in cars.

- East Stroudsburg, PA, USA

problem #37

Dec 282010


  • 69,000 miles


The contact owns a 2003 Nissan Altima. The contact stated that the pre-catalytic converter failed; there was debris in the engine that caused the engine to fail which overheated the catalytic substrate. The contact referenced recall 03V084000 (engine and engine cooling: Exhaust system: Manifold/header/muffler/tail pipe) but the vehicle was not included. The contact called the manufacturer and was awaiting a return call. The failure mileage was 69,000.

- Miami, FL, USA

problem #36

Jul 312010

Altima 4-cyl

  • 88,000 miles
I suspected that my car developed problems with the exhaust system, and two Nissan dealerships confirmed that the catalytic converter is cracked. I found out that problems with defective catalytic converters in 2002-2003 Altima were addressed in Nissan voluntary recall campaign #R3007 (NHTSA #03V-084). The work pertaining to that recall was performed on my car on 07/31/2006 but the defective catalyst has not been replaced as instructed on page 5 of Nissan recall campaign bulletin #ntb03-070C. I asked the dealerships to replace the catalyst as part of the recall #R3007 (NHTSA #03V-084), but they refused since the recall has been recorded as performed. I contacted Nissan Consumer Affairs, but my request to complete the recall work was denied. I contacted CEO of Nissan, carlos ghosn, and executive vp of Nissan North America, carlos tavares. They also rejected my request to properly service my car as Nissan promised in its recall #R3007 (NHTSA #03V-084). The catalyst defects described in Nissan recall campaign bulletin #ntb03-070C are very serious. The debris from catalyst may damage the engine which can result in fire. I kindly request that you investigate whether Nissan's remedy (recall #R3007, NHTSA #03V-084) in this case of defective catalyst was adequate.

- Rockville, MD, USA

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problem #35

Oct 132010


  • 136,000 miles
Screw came off of manifold intake and went into piston causing the engine to fail in the middle of four railroad tracks. Spoke with dealership and Nissan headquarter they said the 2003 Nissan Altima had no problems with that but 2002 2004 2005 certain models did but buy our VIN # there was not a problem. I myself took the manifold off and found the screw had fell off the butterfly and went in to the engine piston I was lucky enough to take a magnet and fish out the screw. After driving the car a few miles the engine light is on I have not a clue what that is about. We done fell safe driving the 2003 Nissan Altima anymore, thanks in advance for looking into this problem.

- Leitchfield, KY, USA

problem #34

Sep 082010


  • 134,874 miles


2003 Nissan smoking, burning oil, sputtering. Diagnosed (by $95 diagnostic I was required by Nissan to get a Nissan dealership) as catalytic converter has gone bad due to overheating, this has caused it to fall apart and go into the motor. Now needs new catalytic converter and motor. There was a recall on 2003 Altima for this very problem, a problem that could cause a car to catch on fire. According to Nissan my VIN was not included in the recall therefore I never received any notice of it but now I have the very issues that the recall was to prevent but they refuse to cover the repair costs. This makes me question if they mistakenly left out some 2003 models that should have been included in the recall, and I have been riding around all this time with the chance my car could catch on fire, this is scary. There are tons of complaints online about this very issue and no one seems to be able to get Nissan to respond, I feel like they need to go back and revisit that recall and maybe add more cars to it before someone gets seriously hurt. I filed a claim with Nissan yesterday, in less than 24 hours they called back to say there was nothing they would do for me. Not sure how much they looked into this because I called it in around 3pm yesterday and they called me back before 10am this morning. This issues needs to be addressed or someone is going to get hurt due to their car catching on fire.

- King, NC, USA

problem #33

Sep 022009


  • 180,000 miles
I have a 2003 Nissan Altima 2.5 sl, in approximately 2008 February, my car stopped on me while driving on the freeway. It turns out that the catalytic converter needed to be replaced. Had the work done at buena park Nissan then I realized that the car had also starting burning excessive oil. I was told there was an oil pan leak, had that work done at another dealership. Approximately 9 months later, the car stopped again, had the car diagnosed at the Nissan dealer ship in antioch, ca, was advised that the catalytic converter needed to be replaced, again. At this point, I was frustrated with the car and I contacted Nissan of North american, and the dealership in buena park who both denied me any help. I was given a reference number of 6594593 when I called for a solution in 2009. Now, 8/2010, I am having acceleration issues again, my check engine light is on, my antifreeze is evaporation along with the engine oil every 300 miles. I called Nissan North America again today and spoke with lisa byrne at extension 41661 who told me there was nothing Nissan would do at this point because my previous claim had already been denied. I am replacing oil on a weekly basis as well as the antifreeze. I called Nissan again today, ref # [xxx]. I asked her who could I contact other than the regional office and she stated no one and that there was nothing Nissan was going to do to right my situation. Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6).

- Brentwood, CA, USA

problem #32

Aug 192009


  • 100,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Nissan Altima. The contact stated that the vehicle was rapidly consuming oil and overheating. The vehicle was previously repaired under NHTSA campaign id number: 03V084000 (engine and engine cooling: Exhaust system: Manifold/ header/ muffler/ tail pipe) yet the failure recurred. The vehicle was taken to a local repair facility where the mechanic installed a pre-catalyst and oxygen sensor but did not remedy the failure. In addition, there was excessive black smoke coming from the exhaust pipe after a routine oil change and smoke coming from under the hood. The dealer advised having a diagnostic performed at the contact's expense. The contact declined. The manufacturer advised having the vehicle diagnosed before they would determine if they would assist with repairs. The vehicle was not repaired. The failure mileage was 100,000 the current mileage was 142,000.

- New Britain, CT, USA

problem #31

Mar 052010


  • miles
I was driving when I noticed my Nissan Altima oil light came on. I went to get it checked and there was no oil in the car. I got the oil and filter changed and a few days later it happened again. I took my car to my mechanic, who told me that I needed a new catalytic converter and new engine. The repairs cost is 3,000 that I don't have. I've been looking online and have noticed that their are a lot of people with the same problem. I had so much exhaust coming from my car that my mechanic told me it wasn't safe to drive.

- Trianglr , VA, USA

problem #30

Feb 102010


  • 150,000 miles


I own a 2003 Nissan Altima 2.5sl and the engine stopped working while I was driving, and hit the curb and blew out my tire and damaged my rim. This cost me about $500 out of my pocket, which really was disappointing. There should be a recall for my vehicle!

- Potomac, MD, USA

problem #29

Jul 022010


  • 89,000 miles
I am one of many who have had the same problem with my Nissan Altima 2003 2.5 engine. The Nissan dealership kept telling me they were not sure what was wrong with my car when I would take it in for their diagnostic testing. Costing $91 each time you have that test done. I was told after many times of the car stalling and shutting off while driving it that it needed a coil #3 well that wasn't the problem the at all driving the car the day that we were going to replace the coil the engine completely shut down. So because I am at 89,000 mile and the warranty has run out I am basically out of luck is what they said and they aren't responsible. So here I am with a 2003 Altima that needs a new engine cause the of the faulty catalytic converter. So why we were never told the many times we went in that this could be the problem is what I am so confused about. I am a single mom that still owes a year on this car at 400 a month and can not afford to replace the engine and the catalytic converter. This is crazy all the complaints of the same problem that I am having and Nissan is not being accountable at all. And this problem could be very dangerous also if you were in traffic and your car just shut off.

- Richmond, VA, USA

problem #28

May 112010


  • 97,000 miles
My oil light flashed on and off my 2003 Nissan Altima with 97,000 miles. I pulled over and checked the oil. The dipstick was bone dry. I had the car towed to an independent mechanic. He said it is an issue with the catalytic converter that destroyed the engine. I need a new engine. Nissan had a recall on this exact thing, but after contacting them, they claim there is no issue and they are not liable. When I pressed them, they said it was because Nissan had not been servicing the car and I have too many miles. I pressed them again, and there story changed again. If you google this problem, hundreds of people have the same problem with the same non-action from Nissan. This is after 9 recalls on this car. Someone has to help us. Please.

- Pittsburg, CA, USA

problem #27

Apr 252010

Altima 4-cyl

  • 155,100 miles
Information redacted pursuant to the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(6) as stated in my last complaint with ODI id number: 10327349, I have a 2003 Nissan Altima. The car is now in the repair shop the engine blown.... the car was burning excessive amounts of oil. However, I also stated that the check engine light was on, and would stay on. Although, while driving on the interstate an reaching the speed of 70mph the check engine light would begin to start blinking. I don't have $3,000 - $4,000 to have this repaired. I'm still making monthly payments. I don't know if there was a recall on my vehicle engine with VIN: [xxx]. furthermore, I need to know if this can be fixed/ repaired immediately by the Nissan in canton, Ms. The mileage presently on the vehicle is 155,100. I didn't purchase the car new, but used. I truly don't know what to do at this point. I've keep the car maintained, and then this happens. Please someone from ODI contact me regarding this matter immediately.

- Batesburg, SC, USA

problem #26

Apr 252010


  • miles
I have a 2003 Nissan Altima. This car is burning oil like crazy. There's no smoke or anything of that sort, but I have to keep an eye out and put oil in my car to keep it running at least every 4-5 days or so. Gas is high and oil is getting higher; I have to keep at least 2-3 quarts in my trunk. The check engine light has been on for sometime now. While driving on the interstate if I go over 70mph the check engine light starts blinking. When I take my foot off the accelerator the check engine light stops blinking, but continues to stay on. However, I just had my spark plugs changed and now the car won't start. Please I need some help asap.... I don't have money to purchase a new one at this time, but wish someone can tell me what is going on. The dealer is no help whatsoever. They get you in there and tell you that this, this, and this is the problem. It seems that nothing is under warranty with Nissan, and I don't own the car as of yet I'm still making monthly payments. I think that Nissan needs to go over the engine, electronic, and etc. Because canton, Mississippi is the home of Nissan and you have some big problems on your hands!!!

- Batesburg, SC, USA

problem #25

May 262009

Altima 4-cyl

  • 66,000 miles
My 2003 Nissan Altima with 83,700 miles was driven to a local dealership where I bought it used a little over one year ago. But prior to leaving home I read at the NHTSA website about similar problems I was already having, hoping this dealership would also have similar, if not, identical results. To my dismay, they had neither. Thereby no type of recall was showing on my model's history via the manufacturer, so I was told. My vehicle problems are as follows, per dealer diagnosis: Tw catalyst sys-B1 (code P0420), engine over temp (code P0217), and cyl 1 misfire (code P0301). Furthermore, my complain essentially was about the car over-heating and taking longer than usual periods to restart, usually up to 10 minutes. This dealer said it could cost upward from at least $400 to fix either one of the problems which may still not correct them all. But the most serious was the catalytic problem that involves hot gases and debris being drawn into the engine instead of going out the exhaust, resulting in engine damage. The problems began when the check engine light remained lit after about 6 months of ownership. But the problem with starting didn't show up until the one year point. Just recently, I have purchased a tune-up as well as a new battery for my vehicle in order to remedy what I thought were owner service issues. Sadly, this local dealer either does not know about your recall or somebody is hiding this from not just them but from owners like me as well. I plan to call Nissan-1 tomorrow as they were closed after leaving the dealership. I hope no fire results from this or any serious problems relating to injuries as we try and resolve this issue. Thank you for your service in advance.

- Warner Robins, GA, USA

problem #24

Mar 132010


  • 125,000 miles
I had a similar, yet extreme experience. I took my car in to get the oil changed at a local Chevy dealership (it was cheap.) when I went to pick up my car, the technician told me that he pulled less than a 8 oz. Of oil from the engine. He said he couldn't find any leaks, but to keep an eye on the oil everyday. I left the dealership and decided to take the car for a drive to "reoil" the engine. The engine had been running a bit funny: Not starting right away, trouble shifting for about 48 hours. I got about five miles at ~55 mph, and while accelerating from a left turn, heard something fall out of the engine. After that, white smoke started pouring out the exhaust. I knew the engine blew. The steering and brakes went out, and I got it to the side of the road (somehow.) the black smoke started pouring in from the vents. I don't remember stopping or getting out, but I remember turning around and seeing flames out the driver's side of the engine. The fire department arrived and put the fire out, but the car was totaled by my insurance company. The engine and interior, especially the driver's side, were destroyed. The backseat was smoke damaged. The trunk and three tires were relatively unharmed.

- Des Moines, IA, USA

problem #23

Jun 272009


  • 128,000 miles
In June 2009 I noticed that in my 2003 Nissan Altima the "service engine soon" light came on. I also noticed then that the car is out of oil. Upon refilling with oil few days later I noticed again dry dipstick. I then took the car to colonial Nissan and explained the problem. Few days later I was told that the catalytic converter was clogged (code P0420) and that there is an engine damage caused by faulty catalytic converter. I contacted Nissan of North America two times in writing and was denied any assistance with repairs. It appears as this is a common issue and Nissan refuses to acknowledge the problem and declines to take any responsibility in this matter.

- Bensalem, PA, USA

problem #22

Feb 092009


  • 98,697 miles
2/11/2009 check engine light made my 2003 2.5 Nissan Altima to stall during afternoon heavy traffic. Ironically, the vehicle was stalled less than a mile from an authorized Nissan dealership, which I utilized regularly. The outcome involved replacing the camshaft position sensor assembly @ a cost of $288.48. 6/23/2009-check engine light on again. Outcome was to replace the crankshaft position sensor @ a cost of $159.69. 12/9/2009 check engine light on again. Outcome dealership recommended installing a new engine, and installing a remanned transmission. I am livid that the issue was allowed to progress to the level that the engine needed to be replaced. When my vehicle stalled, I barely missed being rear-ended by a large truck traveling at least 55-65 miles per hour. This placed my family and I in a dangerous situation.

- Indianapolis, IN, USA

problem #21

Nov 082009


  • 88,000 miles
The contact owns a 2003 Nissan Altima. The vehicle started to make noise in engine after oil change. Two days after oil was topped off, oil level showed it burned 4 quarts with no leaks. Since, it has consumed an excessive amount of oil. The low engine oil warning light illuminated on the instrument panel again. The contact placed more oil into the vehicle before it was taken to a repair shop. The mechanic verified the low oil level and vehicle was burning oil at an alarming rate. There was no evidence of oil leakage anywhere in the vehicle. The contact found over 700 complaints on the NHTSA web site for the same failure. The failure and current mileages were less than 88,000 miles. Internet complaints show 4 cylinder Altima engines had design flaw and pre-catalytic converter overheats and ash material enters engine and scores cylinder walls causing excessive oil use and engine failure. NHTSA had recall for this in 2003 (NHTSA recall #03V08400.ODI) Nissan only inspected engines but did not repair. Engine failures continued to occur to date as NHTSA closed recall and did not monitor Nissan since. NHTSA is negligent in due diligence and follow up with Nissan by allowing failures to continue. In last several years, the pre converter has continued to fail and destroy engines. Original recall only delayed converter failure until warranty expired and $5000 engine replacement costs was pushed onto owner. Nissan will not acknowledge design flaw still destroying engines. Reinstate recall and payment by Nissan. *"TR

- Glen Ellen, CA, USA

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